What Works – And Doesn’t Work – In College Applications


What Works – And Doesn’t Work – In College Applications 

Today, I finished training three new counselors—Meredith, Rhiannon and Monica—who worked in admissions at Cornell, Sweet Briar and Harvard respectively.  During lunch, I posed the following questions to them, and I’ll share their responses here.

After you read an application, what is the biggest turn-off?

1. Arrogance

When confidence goes too far and a student is entirely too self-impressed, it’s not a likable quality.

2. Dishonesty. 

Nobody likes to be lied to.  One of the trainees said that she would count up the total number of weekly hours a student listed for activity involvement.   If the total number exceeded the total number of hours that exist in a week, she knew that something was amiss.

3. Trying too hard to be impressive.

Tell the truth and be proud of what you’ve done.  But don’t try to add marketing oomph to your messages.

What qualities always resonated?

1. Confidence

Confident kids are proud of what they’ve done, but they don’t feel the need to add a dash of marketing to make themselves sound more impressive.

2. Honesty.

A kid who was comfortable enough in her own skin to admit what she didn’t know or wasn’t good at always shined through.   The trainees were clear not to imply that everything is worth sharing.  Just don’t lie about whatever you do mention.

3. Authenticity

Just be yourself.  All three counselors agreed that this was the most important one.

KEVIN MCMULLINKevin McMullin is the Founder of Collegewise, a national college admissions counseling company, co-founder of The Princeton Review and the author of If the U Fits: Expert Advice on Finding the Right College and Getting Accepted. He also writes a daily college admissions blog,, and has given over 500 presentations to discuss smarter, saner college planning.

6 Warning Signs of Suicidal Thoughts

Apr 03, 2019

Sad teen girl with suicidal thoughts

Being a teen is tough and as a parent, the day to day mood swings, likes, and dislikes of your teen can be dizzying to keep up with. With all this going on, it’s important for parents to keep an eye out for more serious signs that their child may be having suicidal thoughts and are in need of a lifeline.

Whether a parent has heard it before or not, nothing brings about more fear for a family when their child runs off screaming, “I wish I were dead!” Screams that perhaps began in tears or angst over a family argument, relentless bullying from so-called “friends,” or a progressive tumble into a deep depression.

Parents, and others, might be tempted to look the other way, writing off the behavior as “typical teenage rebellion” or as “a kid who just needs attention.” Needing attention is exactly what this child needs and sometimes they don’t know how to best let you know. The warning signs of suicidal risks and what you can do about them are important to understand as dealing with them early on is key to healing.

What Parents Need to Know About Teen Suicide

The thought of teen suicide is a nightmare for many parents but the reality is that parents need to be thinking about it and paying attention to their teens. According to the Population Reference Bureau, teen suicide is now the second leading cause of deaths in teens, just behind accidents, with 10 out of 100,000 teens dying by suicide each year. This is a scary fact, but parents should know that prevention and intervention are two ways that they can help their teens.

The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System reported that in 2017, 17.2% of high schoolers reported considering suicide, a number that has increased 25% since 2009. Teen suicide is a growing problem and there are numerous reasons that a teen might resort to suicide as an extreme solution. The question that remains however, is what can parents do to prevent teen suicide by identifying and addressing patterns that may indicate suicidal thoughts?

The seriousness of teen suicide can’t be overlooked and here are 6 warning signs that your teen might be having suicidal thoughts:

  1. Withdrawal from Usual ActivitiesWhen kids who have been typically interested in their social life and extracurriculars begin withdrawing from friends, activities and family gatherings, it is important to wonder what might be going on for your child. Sometimes withdrawal is a sign of depression which is a leading cause of suicide.
  2. Depressed MoodSymptoms of depression can include, but is not limited to, fatigue and decreased energy, difficulty concentrating, feelings of guilt, hopelessness and helplessness, notable changes in sleep patterns such as insomnia or excessive sleeping, notable changes in appetite such as overeating or appetite loss, and persistent sadness. It is also not uncommon for those who are depressed or suicidal to ignore hygiene and personal appearance.
  3. Frequent Outbursts of AngerTeenagers typically have mood swings, all of which need to be addressed. Mood swings that may be more concerning are those that seemingly come out of nowhere and without understandable context. Some of these mood swings may come with threats of violence and self-harm, expressing their sense of hopelessness in an aggressive way. Mood fluctuations between extreme anger or manic behavior and irregular or depressed mood may be signs of bipolar disorder or other mental illness.
  4. Current Family Difficulties or Traumatic Life EventsChildren and teens often experience their parents’ marital conflict or divorce as life altering and traumatic. Hopelessness and helplessness often begin within that child when these difficulties go undiscussed. A death of a loved one or even a family move may leave a child feeling lonely and ignored and sometimes their way of coping is to withdraw or to become angry.
  5. School DifficultiesStudents who contemplate suicide sometimes tell a friend or write about it in school essays. Their feelings of hopelessness may come from a variety of school experiences. Academic pressure from parents or from schools may feel insurmountable especially when the message is that the student is not “good enough” unless they have a perfect score.

    Bullying is a pervasive school problem that students often do not disclose because of shame and embarrassment. Adults may minimize the effects of bullying, but students experience the trauma of such harassment on a daily basis. Currently going beyond name calling and shunning, cyber bullying with mobile devices takes the harassment to a viral level. Students are subject to physical and sexual threats, altered Instagram posts, group humiliation and rejection sometimes accompanied with bribes in order for the bullying to stop.

  6. Self-InjurySometimes the cry for help appears in more hidden, but destructive, ways. Self-injury often begins as a way of self-soothing, with some students report that cutting, or self-mutilation, is a way that they still see if they can feel.

    Substance use of alcohol and drugs temporarily numbs the pain. Food binging sometimes begins as a way to “swallow” the pain while purging is a way to “express” it. And sometimes the student feels as if they can “disappear” or stay in control through restricted eating or anorexia. A disregard for one’s own life can also appear in careless behavior such as reckless driving, unsafe sex, or maintaining destructive and abusive relationships.

Depression and Suicide

Untreated depression and anxiety in teens can often to lead to suicide because it’s hard for teens to find the help that they so desperately require. Sometimes depression and anxiety can be difficult to identify for both teens and parents; the teenage years are volatile enough and a serious case of depression could easily be written off as a moody teen. Even more, teens might not be able to accurately vocalize that their mental health is suffering, if they can even identify that that is the source of their unhappiness.

Depression and suicide have a lot of the same symptoms and warning signs such as:

    • Emotional changes
    • Low self-esteem
    • Loss of interest in usual or social activities
    • Changes in appetite and sleep patterns
    • Social isolation
    • Poor academic performance and increase absences from school

Bullying and Suicide

Bullying and cyber bullying can also play a role in suicidal thoughts and suicide. In fact, the link between the two is so strong that Yale University reported victims of bullying in it’s various forms are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide.

Now that so much of our lives are online, kids not only have to worry about bullying at school and social activities but this bullying can continue online, at all times of day, easily broadcast to every person they know. For teens, this means it can feel inescapable and lead to feelings of shame. And according to, only 1 in 10 online bullying victims will report abuse to a parent or trusted adult which is another reason why it’s critical for parents to pay attention to the warning signs.

Social Media and Suicide

Not only is all that time that teens are spending online and on their phones leading to increased cyber bullying, but it’s also leading to teens playing the comparison game and constantly thinking they are not enough. As a teen, everything feels incredibly important and powerful and this really is true for the effects that social media can have on their mental health: cyber bullying, comparison traps, and social isolation can seriously and negatively impact our teens.

Encouraging healthy amounts of screen time, addressing social media FOMO, and reminding your teens that you are available as a resource can help ensure that your teen remains in a healthy headspace.

What Parents Can Do to Prevent Teen Suicide

Knowing tips about how to prevent suicide is the first place parents and others should start if they notice changes in their teen and their behavior. Having this knowledge and the right resources can help you prevent teen suicide.

  • Pay AttentionAs tempting as it is to look the other way, denial will not help your child. Notice the changes in your child’s appearance, mood, and academics. Trust your gut and use a little detective work—talk with their school counselor, network with other parents who might be “in the know,” check their grades and homework, look in their backpacks and room, and use an Internet filter to keep them safe while they’re online.

    Find an opportunity or an open door to talk with them. Try saying something empathetic such as “I’ve noticed you’re not really yourself these days. It seems like something is bothering you. I’d like to talk about it with you if you’d like.” Be prepared for a shrug, an outburst, or getting blown off. At least you’ve said something. Keep saying it with love and without accusation; don’t try and talk them out of their feelings or minimize their experience. As difficult as it may be to understand or comprehend, listen for the message underneath their behavior.

  • Seek HelpIf your child exhibits signs of depression, anxiety or feelings of helplessness, it is important that you seek assistance. Ask your doctor or school for a referral to a good mental health professional to assess the emotional changes. Be open to family therapy and open to what your child is saying about their inability to cope.

    Be courageous in hearing that they may have thought about ending their life. Work together to make small and significant changes in their daily experience to help elevate their mood, keep them safe, and intervene where necessary. Sites like Help Guide are helpful online resources for teens and parents.

  • Create a VillageYou will need support as a parent; spend time with friends who may understand your angst because they have teenagers too. Reach out to school counselors as they may have their pulse on the academic environment and school day. Involve your network who may be connected to your child; perhaps older siblings or family members are connected to them in cyberspace where they may be able to educate you and fill you in regarding your concerns.
  • Talk About ItDon’t be afraid to ask your teen (or anyone else) if they are so hopeless that they feel ending their life is an option. People who receive support from caring friends and family and who have access to mental health services are less likely to act on their suicidal impulses than are those who are socially isolated. Ask your teen what you can do to be helpful.

    Keep your own stressors in check and examine whether or not your expectations are exacerbating your child’s issues and be realistic. One conversation is just a beginning; keep up the conversations as there is no easy fix. It is not helpful to tell your child “why don’t you just find other friends,” or “how about we redecorate your room?” These are not harmful statements, but the conversation cannot end there.

How Parental Control Software Can Prevent Teen Suicide

Parental control software may not immediately come to mind as a tool parents can use in preventing teen suicide, but it can be incredibly valuable. Parental control software can provide parents with a window into their teen’s online activity and online searches. The visibility that PC software provides can give parents crucial visibility to patterns that might be taking place as well as allowing them to set up alerts and reports for searches that their child is performing online.

Teens contemplating suicide often turn to the Internet when they’re not finding support or answers in other areas of their life. It’s a place of anonymity and there are plenty of sites and people that not only provide information on teen suicide, but encourage it. A teen with less than stellar mental health might begin searching things like “I feel so alone” or “am I depressed” and these searches alone should be enough to tip parents off that there is a bigger problem than your teen just being moody. Those searches might later escalate to ones like “ways to self-harm without a knife,” “how to commit suicide,” and “easiest way to commit suicide” all of which provide a staggering number of search results on Google with upwards of hundreds of millions of hits.

With PC software, parents can block websites that discuss suicide and set up alerts and reports for searches their child performs online. Paying attention to changes and serious warning signs of suicidal thoughts in real life is incredibly important but parents shouldn’t overlook the significance of their teen’s online activity.  Acting as a second set of eyes, PC software can help parents see more and in the case that your teen might be having suicidal thoughts, it can be key in helping you prevent it.

Teens go through a very turbulent and emotional time in their development but hopefully their difficulties do not emerge as suicidal thoughts. Spending time with them doing things they like to do, talking with them about their day and your day, and encouraging them to find some safe social connection is good for all teen… and it’s good for you too.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, visit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 1-800-273-8255 for more resources.

Charlene Underhill Miller, PhD

Dr Charlene Underhill Miller, a psychotherapist in Southern California, working with parents, couples and families. She is a frequent and popular speaker to community groups, a professor, a wife and mother.

Family Game Night


Family Game Night 

We all know that spending time with our families is important, it offers feelings of stability, security, and ultimately love. With all of the demands on our time it is important that families be intentional with their time. Family Game Night is the perfect way to bond with your family, create memories, and have fun. Here are some tips to help Family Game Night be a success at your house.


Ready, set, go! Begin by checking your calendar to find a free hour or so for everyone in your family. Many people become overwhelmed thinking that they must block out an entire evening or that game night must be a weekly occurrence. The frequency and duration of a Family Game Night isn’t the focus, it is simply setting aside time for those most important to you: your family. Also, the best way to keep everyone’s attention is to keep things moving. Some games can be more like a marathon than a sprint. Designating a time for game play, and for each game played, helps to keep the time flowing and everyone focused on the game, parents included.


The first step to a successful game night is choosing games that will hold your family’s interest. If you have a range of ages in your family this can be tricky. To create buy-in let your kiddos pick the games. Thankfully manufactures show the suggested age-ranges on the side of most board games, which should help you steer your kids in the right direction. That might mean each child choose one game and all games are given time limits (15-30 minutes each). The littlest members of your family will most likely have no interest in playing. Let them sit on your lap and engage where they show interest, but have separate activities set out for them so that they are near the fun.


One of the best lessons that you can teach your kiddos during a game night is sportsmanship. Remember, children do a much better job emulating our actions than they do our words. Keep these things in mind as you play:

Be Patience– even when your child has dropped the dice on the floor 700 times, show your child that you can wait nicely and help them to get back on track.

Winning Doesn’t Matter– That old adage “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game” is important to keep in mind as you play with your family. Remind children that playing fairly, being kind to other players, and having fun is what games are all about. Winning and losing is just a small part of the story.

Be Flexible– Are pieces to a game missing? Improvise. Did you realize 5 minutes into the game that it just isn’t a good fit? Scrap it and try again. Did you kids get hungry? Take a quick snack break. Rigidity is one of the fastest means of making a fun night anything but fun.

Manage Your Expectations– Life in general, and parenting specifically, seems to be smoother when you enter a situation with your expectations low. If you envision a picture-perfect hour of nothing but joy, love, and gratitude… you are sure to be disappointed. Instead plan on a few bumps along the road and count the smiles as worth any bumps.



Armed with these few hints you are ready to plan and execute a Family Game Night that will be a building block for many family memories.

Tessa Jurewicz is an accomplished writer who is passionate about helping parents find joy in raising a family. She has honed her passion while teaching elementary-aged children for fifteen years and earning a Masters degree in Early Childhood Education. She practices discovering joy daily in raising three young children of her own.

Kids and the Joy of Giving

It’s often said that the holidays are for children. We love to see the season through our children’s eyes and we love to present things for their enjoyment. We think of giving our children gifts but we might not remember to give them the best gift the season has to offer: the gift of giving.

While you’re planning things this month to give to your children, in the form of presents, trips to see Santa, cookie-decorating binges and other fun, remember to get them involved in giving to others. While certainly this can include giving to a local charity or volunteering to deliver meals to the underprivileged, these are mostly family events and family decisions. What I’m thinking of here is much more personal. Children need to choose, buy (or make) and wrap gifts for other family members, with as little help from you as possible.

Our desire to achieve holiday perfection gets in the way here. We know what each person in the family wants and we may have already decided what each person will receive from each child. We are tempted to just tell a child, “Wouldn’t this be a great gift for Daddy?” or for Grandma or whomever and short-circuit the child’s own thinking. We might even buy the gift ourselves, just letting the child wrap it. We might even do the wrapping, just letting the child sign the tag.

As you know yourself, giving gifts is lovely fun. Part of gift-giving is deciding what to give. Another part is doing the actual shopping (or making). Then there is the wrapping. Finally, there is the giving of the gift. When we do just about all of these steps for our child, letting him do only the handing over of a package we decided on, purchased, and wrapped ourselves, we have limited the pleasure our child gets from the holiday season. And we have allowed him to think that he only has to be concerned with what he gets not what he gives.

So, if this has been your path in the past, this is the year to do things differently. Any child old enough to understand the idea of giving someone else a gift – from about age three on up – should do her own pondering of what each recipient on her giving list might want. The giving list should be short – probably just immediate family members for older kids and just the parents for tiny folks.

What to buy should be restricted only by feasibility and cost. Do not try to steer a child’s choice of gift in any way. Instead ask, “What will you give to Daddy for Christmas?” and see what the child says. If she has no ideas, don’t supply any. Say, “What do you think Daddy likes?” If you still get nowhere, say, “Well, think about it. I’ll ask you again later.”

Thinking about others is the hardest part. Your child may come back with something the child would like. The younger the child, the more okay this is. Remember that your child’s understanding of each family member is filtered through the activities they do together. So your preschooler may suggest that Daddy would like a ball or some Legos. This is fine. Don’t correct him.

The next step is going shopping. Your child will likely need a stipend from you for this and a dollar limit. There’s no need to spend the entire amount if the child is happy with something less expensive. So you and your child might go shopping for Daddy and might buy him a ball for $.99. Your child does all the choosing with minimal guidance from you. Great.

Maybe your child thinks Daddy would like a new car or something else that is out-of-the-question. Instead of completely redirecting, suggest that the child could buy Daddy a model of the car he would like to have or a toy version of it. It is, after all, the thought that counts.
If in the past your family gifts from the children have been gifts chosen and purchased by adults, then it’s a good idea to let everyone in on the new method. This way Daddy won’t be surprised by getting a ball or a Hot Wheel from his son or daughter and he will help your children think of and shop for similar gifts for you.

Now watch on Christmas morning, as your children are excited to see the gifts they chose be opened and admired. Notice how happy they are and how involved they are in the act of giving. You wouldn’t want to deprive them of this joy.

Giving, not getting, is the most fun the season offers. Let your kids in on it!

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

DR. PATRICIA NAN ANDERSONDr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.

The 10 Warning Signs of Cyberbullying

Oct 10, 2018

With the rapid advancement of mobile technology and the increased demand of smartphones, many children are being given access to mobile devices at a young age. What many parents sometimes are unaware is that access to these devices has the potential to create a dangerous scenario for children and teens; cyberbullying.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that children in third through fifth grades that own cell phones are more likely to be victims of cyberbullying. “Parents often cite the benefits of giving their child a cell phone, but our research suggests that giving young children these devices may have unforeseen risks as well,” said Elizabeth K. Englander, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Bridgewater State University.

It has been reported that up to 43% of children have been victims of cyberbullying at some point in their lives. And up to 58% of those kids have NOT told their parents. It’s important for parents to pay attention to their children’s behavior, both on and off their devices, in order to be aware of and help to prevent such situations.


Below are 10 tips for parents to help spot the warning signs of cyberbullying:

  1. Uneasy, nervous or scared about going to school or outside.

    This is a major warning sign that your child is uncomfortable in their school environment or being around their classmates. Some other signs to look out for are if your child continuously asks you if they can skip school by staying home or if they make calls asking to come home early during the school day.

  2. Nervous or jumpy when texting or using social media.

    Does your child become extremely anxious about their phone, tablet or laptop, especially while you’re in view of the device? Keeping devices in commonly used areas is an easy way to help maintain a watchful eye.

  3. Upset or frustrated after going online or gaming.

    Have you ever witnessed your child get so angry at what’s happening on screen that they slam their device shut or throw it mid-use? This outburst of anger can be a red flag, as kids may do this as a way to distance themselves from bullies.

  4. Unwilling to discuss or share information about their online accounts and activity.

    Increased secretiveness is another big warning sign when it comes to online bullying. Children will try to hide what is going on in order to keep it quiet since many victims are afraid to speak out, especially to parents. Having a family contract that establishes rules for your children and their online passwords and accounts is just another way to help protect them from bullying and give you, as parents, some peace of mind.

  5. Unexplained weight loss or weight gain, headaches, stomachaches, or trouble eating.

    Health-related symptoms like these are just some of the many ways bullying can take its physical toll on a child. Parents need to be aware of these signs because if they continue for a long period, their child’s health can go downhill very fast.

  6. Trouble sleeping at night or sleepy during the day.

    Restlessness is a huge factor when it comes to cyberbullying. Children are unable to sleep because they are tormented by what the cyberbullies are saying about them. This fatigue can then affect the child throughout the rest of the day, making their school day even harder, as they attempt to deal with schoolwork and classmates.

  7. Loss of interest in favorite hobbies or activities.

    If your child has suddenly lost interest in their favorite sport or hobby, it may be an indicator of cyberbullying. They may be trying to distance themselves from others making fun of them or attempting to fit in. Talk with your child and continue to encourage them to do what makes them happy, not others.

  8. Child suddenly seems depressed or anti-social.

    If your child seems to be severely unhappy and only wants to be in their room by themselves, it could be a warning sign. To boost their mood, try planning a family outing or even a game night to get them up and out of their room. This will also let your child know that your family is there to support them.

  9. Withdrawn from close friends and family.

    This withdraw could be an attempt to push people away and distance everyone in their life, especially from those doing the bullying. Make sure your child knows you’re there for them if they want to talk about anything.

  10. Making passing statements about suicide or making a suicide attempt.

    This is an immediate red flag. These signs should not be taken lightly! Contact a professional immediately and get the school involved, if needed. Make sure your child knows that your actions are only because you’re trying to help them.


It can be difficult to recognize the signs of cyberbullying without becoming a  helicopter parent, who is overly anxious and suspicious about what your child is doing on their mobile device. But noticing one or more of these signs can help you pinpoint distress in your child’s life. If that’s the case, create a safe space with open communication for your child to communicate what’s going on in their life and check out the 6 proven ways to stop cyberbullying.


Emily Hartung


4 Secret Messaging Apps Parents Need to Know About

Sep 11, 2019

Preteen girl using secret messaging app to text on smartphone

We all know that our teens love to text, but did you know that there are secret message apps that allow teens to keep their conversations away from the prying eyes of their parents? Keeping up with your teen is hard enough without them actively trying to hide things from you so you’ll want to keep an eye on these four private messaging apps.

If you see these apps on your child’s devices, you don’t automatically need to assume that they are doing something inappropriate or hiding things from you. You know your children best and will be able to decide if they are ready to use an app of this nature appropriately.

If you are looking to set better technology boundaries with your kids, check out these 4 Reasons You Need a Family Contract.

What is a Secret Message App?

Many of the private messaging apps available in app stores today include features that allow users to have hidden or secret conversations. While this can act as an extra layer of security, knowing that not anyone who picks up your phone can read these texts, it can also be used as a tool to hide who you’re are in contact with or the nature of conversations. A growing number of these apps even include self-destructing features that automatically delete texts, photos, or videos sent after a certain amount of time.

For some teens, these features can mean trouble. They can’t be held accountable for these conversations if they don’t exist, right? While the answer to this is obviously no, you may want to remind your teens that even though some chats might automatically delete, it doesn’t stop recipients from taking a screenshot and sharing with others. Every family is different, but parents may want to consider the amount of trust between themselves and their teen as well as their teen’s maturity level before giving them the go-ahead to use these apps.

Here are four apps to hide text messages that you should know about:

  1. SnapchatSnapchat is primarily a photo and video sharing app that has messaging capabilities. Designed to encourage users to live and share in the moment, these moments are fleeting, and photos, videos, and messages disappear after being viewed. Parents should know that even though the messaging settings can be changed, messages will not be saved for longer than 24 hours unless they are saved manually. Parents who wish to look at their kids’ messages from time to time will likely not have much success with transparency in this app.

    Learn more about what parents need to know about Snapchat.

  2. WhatsAppWhatsApp, a popular messaging app, allows users to message and voice call others from all over the world. Other features that WhatsApp offers include groupchat and the ability to login and chat from any web browser. WhatsApp might seem like an instant messaging app that you don’t need to worry about but parents should know that WhatsApp offers end-to-end encryption that lets users further protect their chats by enabling a code or number to unlock and read each message. Readers without the code or number will not be able to view chats.
  3. TelegramTelegram is a instant messaging app that allows you to make voice calls as well as share photos, videos, and files with friends. Other features that Telegram offers include group chats for up to 200,000 members and photo and video editing tools. As an extra security feature, Telegram provides secret and self-destructing chats that will automatically delete messages from the devices of both participants. Parents will want to know that there is no discoverability on this chat and new contacts can only be added through phone numbers.
  4. KikKik is a private messaging app that allows your kids to chat with not only their friends, but also with strangers. Kik does not immediately delete chats but you will only be able to see a few hundred messages before they delete. Kik promotes public group chats that cover any number of topics and hobbies. These groups are often inappropriate for children and teens and they allow strangers to contact your children. Parents should know that Kik is known for having issues in the past with child exploitation and Internet predators.

Other Private Messaging Apps and Features

Encrypted Messaging
Many private messaging apps today offer users the added security of encrypted messaging. Encrypted messaging encodes the message and information you are sending to another user making it unreadable until it reaches the recipient’s device. This doesn’t mean that in every case of encrypted messaging you won’t be able to see texts on your child’s phone. Some apps like WhatsApp will provide encryption that is also secured behind a lock or password, but others will just make sure your messages aren’t being intercepted on the way to the recipient.

Vault Apps
Vault apps differ from private messaging apps since they typically do not have any messaging capabilities. They do, however, allow users to store and hide chats, photos, videos, and files behind a password. Vault apps tend to look like other utility apps on your phone, like a calculator app, with the intention of masking its presence. Any incorrect password attempts are recorded and some even take a photo when a user inputs an incorrect password. These apps offer a sense of security for users looking to keep important information private, such as passwords, travel plans, or personal info but for teens it could mean they are looking to hide something from their parents.

Secret messaging apps aren’t always a reason for parents to worry, but rather something they should keep an eye on. These apps often have a lot of great features and secret or disappearing chats just happen to one of the many they offer. Parents should take into consideration these features and the amount of privacy these apps can offer your kids and determine what’s best for your family.

Being well-informed and clear about your expectations when it comes to device, Internet, and app use are the first steps in making sure your kids are using them responsibility. Additionally, using a parental control software can act as a second set of eyes and can help your family to manage app usage, screen time and more across all devices. Raising children in a digital world can be a daunting task but having the right tools and knowing what to be on the lookout for can make your job easier.

Katherine Cromleigh

Katherine Cromleigh is currently a Social Media and Editorial Contractor and is studying communications at Purdue University. She hopes to add to the conversation surrounding technology and today’s youth.

How to Ease the First Day of School Anxiety

Aug 13, 2019

Young girl sitting outside of school with backpack reading a book

With a pit in my stomach, I sat quietly in the back seat of my parents’ car as they drove me to school. Anxious, a bit afraid, and excited too, I imagined in my head just what it would be like. Would I make friends? Whom would I have lunch with? Would I feel stupid or smart? Would I fit in? And were my clothes up to my classmates “standards?”

I was on my way to UCLA, a freshman moving into the dorms.

We often think of those “first day of school jitters” as something our preschooler, kindergartener, or middle schooler feels; however, the unknown produces anxiety for all of us. Whether you have young ones beginning their school journey or a seasoned “first day of schooler,” it is important to understand that much of this anxiety is deeply rooted in the same place — “will I be OK?”


With this understanding, we can help kids of all ages and stages with much of those first day of school nerves. Here are seven ways how to help them deal with first day of school anxiety:


This is advice best heeded by all parents of kids of all ages! Begin managing your own anxieties of sending your child off to school. Ask yourself, “What am I afraid of?” Perhaps you are afraid that your child will not belong, will not measure up, will not behave or will not be safe. Some of our own adult anxieties are rooted in our own school experiences or back to school anxiety. Examine what might be going on for you.


Many anxieties are exacerbated by last minute rushing. Talk through your child’s needs for school in an organized and calm fashion. Work through the lists and the lists of requests sent home by school teachers and administrators. Spend some time thinking through the school logistics with your child that might involve things like transportation, lunch, clothing, school supplies and schedules. Planning ahead, and preparing them for school in small degrees, means being planned before the very last minute.


With map and schedule in hand, visit the school with your child and school friends in tow. Whether it is casing out the playground, the lunch room, the front door of each classroom, or it’s a well-planned visit with school counselors and tour guides, preliminary preparation can be helpful to you both.


Most therapists understand that when someone is engaged in the process, they are less likely to be afraid of the unknown. Ask children what they might need from you in emotional support or in practical planning. They may come up with some wonderful ideas and their ideas will come back to them during the day when they are most anxious.


Open-ended questions are most helpful in exploring what might be underneath their jitters. Sometimes kids worry about the classroom bully, the advanced level of work, or of being away from you. Talk about their worries and help brainstorm what kind of practical or emotional aid would be helpful.


Linus, from the famous Peanuts cartoon, helped parents everywhere appreciate the magic of a security blanket. Sending something special with your child to school can help connect him or her to home. A stuffed animal or blanket for the preschool nap; a favorite trinket for the school cubby; a note in a lunchbox in elementary school; a carefully chosen backpack for middle or high school; family pictures for the dorm room – mementos such as these can help ease jitters during the day.


I arrived home to the smell of warm chocolate chip cookies at the end of every first day of school for as long as I can remember. It is a tradition that I have carried on with my own family. My mother knew that I would be more willing and eager to get home and share about my day, my concerns, and who was in my class over a plate of cookies, which beats the hounding of an anxious parent every time. Create a simple celebration ritual for your child that helps create security.

Your empathetic gestures and loving words will connect to your child’s fears and experiences. Don’t diminish those feelings or tell them not to worry. Don’t punish them or threaten them for feeling the way that they do.

Rather, engage in open, understanding conversations about what might feel helpful to them. And if either one of you continues to feel unhappy or overwhelmed, be open to exploring outside resources with your doctor, therapist, or school administrators. Remember, if you are positive and at peace, those feelings are more likely to transfer to your child.


Charlene Underhill Miller, PhD

Dr. Charlene Underhill Miller, a psychotherapist in Southern California, working with parents, couples, and families. She is a frequent and popular speaker to community groups, a professor, a wife, and mother

Does Your Child Have Social Media FOMO: Fear of Missing Out?

Jul 23, 2019

Teen girl sitting outside using social media on smartphone

The sounds are all too familiar. A ping, a chirp, a pulse; a fun ring tone or a simple vibration for a text, a tweet, an Instagram post, a Snapchat picture. Hard to resist looking; hard to resist responding. We have all become Pavlov’s dogs. The bell rings and we salivate – or at least jump to look at who is reaching out to us. Kids – and parents, too – are suffering a new kind of social anxiety—one that I call “Twitter anxiety, Snapchat insanity, and Instagram depression.”

Many are becoming obsessed with how many “likes” their post has, whether an Instagram photo includes them, whether a friend will text us back with the kind of speed that makes us feel as though we are important to them. Social media can be both “a-social” and “anti-social.” We have to take control of it so it doesn’t take control of us.

If these currents are difficult for us as parents to navigate, imagine how vulnerable our children are to feeling left out or misunderstood. Kids need to learn how handle posts and tweets with balance and maturity and to avoid undue anxiety when notifications come in – and especially when they don’t.

As parents, we need to help our kids deal with FOMO – the “Fear of Missing Out.” Below are five areas that you can work with your child help reduce social media anxiety.

  • Empathy: We parents still remember the times when we were not included in a gathering (we may still feel the familiar sting when it happens today). This the experience of “missing out” is a reality for many of our kids. When they seem anxious about a text not coming in or photos of an activity they are not in, help them find words for their concern and plan an alternative way of communicating with their friends. If they are sad about missing out, lend them a non-judgmental ear and give them some space to talk about their feelings.
  • Strategy: Sometimes the anxiety with social media is driven by practical needs—homework, extracurricular activities, sports practices and gatherings. If they are anxious about a homework question or details about getting together, prompt them to actually place a phone call! Know what alternative resources are available to your child for school-related questions through the school’s website, teachers’ emails, and newsletters. If a gathering is purely social, that may be a time for you as a parent connect with the other parents to facilitate communication and help confirm plans.
  • Limits and Boundaries: Most kids have difficulty with impulse control. Help them manage this by agreeing on some family limits on social media that also apply to you! Turning off the phone and social media will be hard at first, but it will help curb the incessant checking. You and your kids can let friends know that calls and texts cannot be answered after a certain time. Unplug. Corral the technology for a certain time in a designated space. Including yours! It’s OK.
  • Be Informed: It is very difficult for parents to stay current with trends. Kids are often using new apps before their parents even know they exist. Educate yourself about what is popular with our kids and their friends. Become aware of is posted so you can be empathetic to your child’s experiences, whether they be good or painful. Recruit an ally in the form of an older nephew, niece, or friend who is connected to your child through social media to keep a look out on what your child seems to be doing and experiencing in social media and to help you stay abreast of what is really going on.
  • Model: Model healthy social media behavior with your children. Don’t text and drive; don’t exhibit “Facebook Envy” by comparing your mundane life to the seemingly more glamorous lives posted by your friends. Create opportunities to talk about FOMO – those feelings of being left out – and work with your child to make plans for shared activities and face-to-face conversations they can have with their friends. In the end, a fun time actually spent with a friend will do far more for your child’s self-esteem than a day spent nose to the screen.

It’s a long battle, so be tenacious. But also be empathetic to their losses even if they seem trivial to you. Be a model in how you handle your own social habits and disappointments. Be mindful that anxiety is real and can take one over. Help your child learn to take positive social actions rather than living life responding to a ping and a ding!

Charlene Underhill Miller, PhD

Dr Charlene Underhill Miller, a psychotherapist in Southern California, working with parents, couples and families. She is a frequent and popular speaker to community groups, a professor, a wife and mother.

How to Speak the Language of Adolescence?

Jun 18, 2019

One major difference between you, as a parent, and your teenage son or daughter is the major shift in communication with the inclusion of modern technology.

Modern technology – phones, computers, tablets, smart watches and social media – has evolved faster than we know what to do with it.

As parents, we now have to understand this vehicle of communication so that we can give our teens the tools they need to communicate effectively.

It’s no surprise that teens today use their devices as a “go-to” means of communicating.

Communication is Transitioning

You may not prefer that, but that’s the reality! This shift has produced a whole new communication style that we can embrace in order to effectively communicate and maintain strong connections with our teenagers.

How often do you hear your son/daughter say they “talked to a friend for hours”, when in fact it was all through text or social media? I’ve worked with many teenagers who report increased confidence and comfort in texting to initiate conversation rather than talking in person. There can be benefits to this type of communication but it’s important to remember, communication is only partially complete with words alone.

Upwards of 90% of communication is non-verbal – not what we say at all but how we say it – emotion is communicated through non-verbal cues including tone of voice, inflection and body language. This leaves much room for misinterpretation.

Teens are in a constant state of transition. They live between childhood and adulthood.

How do we help to blend these two worlds and make this time most comfortable for everyone? Meaningful, face to face interactions are still important and valued by teenagers. Some of the work is finding and making the most of those opportunities while embracing and learning what role technology plays for your son or daughter.

One major difference between you, as a parent, and your teenage son or daughter is the major shift in communication with the inclusion of modern technology.

Tips to Decipher Your Teen

Consider the following suggestions that I’ve seen work positively with some of the families in my practice:

  • Use technology to help you communicate more with your teens. Send them funny texts; let them share with you an article or video they found and liked on the internet. Watch it with them and laugh with them!
  • Teens are more emotionally mature and capable of more mature conversations than their younger selves. They will respond positively when treated with respect and spoken to directly. Remember you can use more “grown up” language with your teens and trust them more so you can explain why certain rules and boundaries are necessary.
  • Be available when they are ready to talk. This is a tough one. It may not always be when you’re ready to talk. Let’s be honest, it rarely is! A consistent complaint I hear from my teenage clients is their parent is a “nag” and “doesn’t let it go” or “preaches too much”. I often suggest to these parents that they break down difficult conversations. For instance, open up the conversation in a non-threatening manner, gauge openness to discuss and ask when would be good time to check back in with your son/daughter to talk some more. This approach provides opportunity for your teen to think about how they feel, too, before responding, remembering that teens are wired to respond more impulsively.
  • Regular family dinners are so important. Agree as a family (parents included!) to put all electronics away during that vital time to reconnect after your busy day. Regular family dinners are so important.

Most importantly, remember that your teen is always looking for mentors to admire and look up to. By embracing the new technology-enriched generation, you’ll provide an expressed interest and investment in their life.

It is our role to meet our kids where they are and help them to navigate the many conflicting messages they receive, both in their internal and external worlds.

Annemarie Lange

Annemarie Lange is a licensed professional counselor in the Philadelphia area that utilizes mindfulness and meditation to help her clients deal with a variety of challenges.


June 11th is Kick-off Day! Kid Friendly Zone! Makerspace will be open on Tuesdays during the summer from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Only 1/2 a block away from the Dillon Public Library, the address is 35 S. Idaho.

MAKERSPACE: Arts, Crafts, Painting, Legos, Kinects, Building, Constructing, Computer Programming, Robotics, Drones, Movie Making and MORE! Sponsored by UM Western and Dillon Public Library.

Wanting to Volunteer? Call 683-4544